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Tibet History and Geography

A Short History of Tibet:

Tibet with one of the most fascinating history started with The Yarlung Empire, according to legend and folk tales, the Tibetan people originated from the union of a monkey and an ogress.

This mythical event took place within a cave on Mt. Gonpo Ri, a ridge overlooking the historic Yarlung Valley. A firmer historical viewpoint is provided by an authoritative Tang Annals, of 10th Centaury Chinese text, which recorded that the Tibetans were derived from the Qiang (Ch'iang) tribes, a nomadic and pastoral people that lived on the steppes northwest of China. Prior mention of these tribes has surfaced as early as 200 BC. Reliable sources traces Tibetan history begin from late 6th century AD, Namri Songsten ( 570-619 AD) of Yarlung Valley was a chief who ruled part of the divided country.

After joining forces with rival factions, he began to exert control over much of Central Tibet and became a significant military force in Inner Asia. He subjugated several Qiang tribes on the Chinese border and was known to the Sui dyanasty (581-617) as 'Commander of 100,000 Warriors'.

Tibetan tradition consider him as 32nd king in a line that started with Nyatri Tsenpo, the mythical ruler who miraculously descended from the sky to Mt. Yala Shampo at the head of the Yarlung Valley (during the reign of Lhatotori, the 28th king, Buddhist scriptures fell from the sky, heralding the transmission of Buddhism throughout the country). Namri Songtsen's son, Songtsen Gampo (617-50 AD), was crowned king in 629. He continued to expand the empire and threatened China's western border during the 3rd decade around 7th C.

To appease him, in 641, Emperor Taizong (r 626-49) of the Tang Dynasty gave him one of his daughters, Princess Wencheng, in marriage. Even before that, however, Songtsen's Gampo had subjugated Nepal and annexed the Bon-Po kingdom of Shangshung in West Tibet, marrying in 632 the Nepalese Princess (Brikuti).

She was the daughter of Anshuvarman, minster of King Shivadeva and until 621 de facto ruler of Nepal by 648, Songtsen has also invaded northern India.

Songtsen Gampo the first religious King (Chogyal). Through marriage he was influenced by Buddhism and it was he who founded Jokhang and Ramoche, the foremost temples of the land. Tibetan religious culture was given a further boost when his minster, Thonmi Sambhota, devised the Tibetan alphabet, based on an Indian script.

The enabled Buddhist scriptures from India to be freely translated, Tibet’s first half of the 7th C. looked west as well as east for its cultural, religious, and political inspiration.

In addition to India, both Nepal and China contributed vital influences: vestiges of Nepalese art, particularly Newari woodwork, can still be seen today in the magnificent door frames and columns of the Jokhang.

Two decades after the death of Songtsen Gampo, border hostilities between Tibet and China resumed in the present-day Chinese provinces of Qinghai and Xingjiang.

This state of conflict lasted for the next two centuries and the Tibetans, sometimes with the help of the Western Turks, fought the Chinese for control of the lucrative Central Asian Silk Routes.

Trisong Detsen (742-97 AD) was the Second Religious King. A century after Songtsen Gampo, he ascended the Yarlung throne (755 AD), and over the following half-century, he further extended Tibetan military power, in 763 AD, his army actually occupied Changan (modern Xi'an), the Chinese capital, and for a short time supported a puppet emperor.

His most important contribution to Tibetan history was not territorial. He was immortalized for nurturing Buddhism. At the age of 21, Trisong Detsen invited some of the greatest Buddhists gurus of India and China to Tibet.

Since then Tibet was fully a Buddhism country with great influence of Guru Padmasamava  “Guru Ringboche’ who started the Nyinpa (Red Hat) sect of Buddhism, later Tsho Kapa established Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) sects in 11th C and followed by Kyigapa-Sakyapa sects. Till then Mongol ruled Tibet for hundreds of years appointed Dalai Lama as head of state from 6th Dalai Lama onward till the 14th Dalai Lama who now lives in India after Chinese occupation of Tibet in late 1950’s.

Geography of Tibet:

Tibet, located on world highest and largest plateau annexed in late 1950’ as Autonomous Country of China. Tibet’s vast landscapes stretch from green forest to arid dry moonscapes, huddled in rain shadow behind the Northern Himalaya massive range.

Tibet with its high country known as the roof of the world and still retains mysterious as it was for many past hundred of centuries, travelers can feel the age of medieval period and a taste of Shangri-la.

Tibet covers total area of 471,900 sq. miles / 1,221, 700 sq.km extends 2,600 k.m. from West to East and 1,300 from North to South where high Himalayan are the barrier bordering neighboring countries, extends from 78° to 90° Longitude East and from 28° to 37° Latitude North. 

Tibet with an average elevation of over 3000 meters / 8,000 ft reaches above 5,000 m where some villages are located even above 4,000 m high, where snow capped peak ranges from above 5,500 m, 6,000 m, 7000 m to 8,848 m which is the top of Mt. Everest.

World highest mountains within Tibet are Mt. Everest, Cho-Oyu, Shisapangma and other over 6000 meters peaks. The southern border links Nepal and towards south West with India and Pakistan and towards south east Bhutan, Sikkim and all the way to Myanmar.

Since it open the door for visitors, one can travel by air or on surface reaching from mainland China and Nepal.

Tibet a country of 20 % forested area 40 % farm land and agriculture fields with 40 % of desolate, arid and windswept desert like territory  where some of the world highest and largest salt lakes exist in all parts of Tibet, the holy Manasarover Lake, Raksas Tal (lake) Pigatsho Lake, The turquoise color lake of  Yamdrok Tsho and beautiful Nam-Tsho Lakes with many rivers Brahmaputra (Yarlung Tsangpo) Karnali-Sutlej and Arun Rivers are some of the source of the rivers that fed from the glacier of Tibetan mountains.